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Exploring Reigns’ unexpected popularity on YouTube

You don’t see a ton of mobile games highlighted on ye olde YouTube. Whether it’s the difficulty of recording them, the lack of interest from fans, or the short playtimes, it really takes some extenuating circumstances for a mobile-only title to make it big via YouTube. So it was very interesting to learn that Reigns, a Tinder-esq monarchy mobile game, specifically called out YouTube as one of the unexpected viral marketing aspects of its release. Seeing the success and spin-offs the game has since had, from a Game of Thrones-themed version to an asymmetric party board game (Reigns: The Council), I wanted to take a step back and look at how the Reigns parade started with YouTube. 

Reigns
Exploring Reigns’ unexpected popularity on YouTube 5

This rabbithole first starts with an interesting comment found during the GDC Showcase talk, where a listener in the chat asked the following, in regards to the speaker mentioning the importance of YouTube for their advertising:

“Why are YouTubers important such that you planned a surprise for them? Marketing and influencing new players or something else?”

The response from the speaker and writer of the game, Francois Alliott, who was active in the chat of the livestream, was: “Yes. The game went out the same day as No Man’s Sky, which had a lot of bugs. So that week, YouTubers covered our game instead. And it worked very well. But indeed, it was not particularly intentional. Kind of an accident. But Youtubers are players, and we definitely wanted to surprise the players, so…”

Reigns
Courtesy of Nerial & Devolver Digital

While a quick search reveals the two didn’t come out on the exact same day, they did release in the same week, with No Man’s Sky releasing on August 9, 2016, and Reigns following suit just 2 days later on August 11. Given the game’s notorious day one bugs and patches and the lack of review copies that YouTubers could get their hands on prior to release, it made sense to pivot from No Man’s Sky to the other new launch of the week. Tinder was a well-known app, so curiosity of how Reigns would incorporate those mechanics into a strategy monarchy format was high. But that’s only one part of the formula. The other had to do with the desire Alliott mentioned about wanting to surprise the players and keep them playing.

Reigns
Courtesy of Nerial & Devolver Digital

You see, the game starts you around year 603, when you first begin your reign. Each decision usually leads to a year passing in game, with the beginning acting as a soft tutorial of the mechanics, with limited options for the player to choose from, and with the old king, the ‘Spirit of the Fallen,’ acting as a mentor between lives. Even though each individual king can live or die, you live as each king in the line, forced to remember and live every decision relating to the kingdom. A curse, the Spirit claims, that only the Devil can break, if he even exists. The game moves on, but the idea of the Devil has been planted. The year 666 approaches and, wouldn’t you know it, the appearance of the Devil at around 15-20 minutes into the game was about the perfect length for gaming YouTube videos in 2016. 

Reigns
Courtesy of Nerial & Devolver Digital

And there you have it, the perfect storm of chance and design to draw players in to check out this indie game. The game itself released on both mobile and Steam, even though the design was originally intended more towards mobile players, making it easier to record, and allowing it to reach a wider audience than if it had released purely on mobile. I personally greatly enjoy both Reigns and Reigns: Her Majesty, and would highly recommend giving the series a try if you haven’t before. So go forth, and rule! 

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